UK online gambling operators face strict new bonus offer rules following an investigation by the national competition watchdog.
On Thursday, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced that certain terms in online gambling promotional offers were “likely to be ‘unfair,’ in breach of consumer protection law, and could mislead consumers.”
The CMA opened its investigation into online bonus offers in October 2016 following complaints to both the CMA and the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) that operators were using restrictions in these offers’ fine print “to block players’ payouts.” Last June, the CMA said five online operators were likely to face “enforcement action” for violating consumer law.
The CMA previewed the results of its findings last November, and said Thursday that three online operators – William Hill, Ladbrokes and Playtech offshoot PT Entertainment’s TitanBet and Winner sites – had “formally committed to change the way they offer bonus promotions to ensure players can always access and release their own money.”
Specifically, the operators have agreed that (a) players won’t be required to play multiple times before they can withdraw their own money; (b) restrictions on gameplay must be made clear to players, and operators can’t rely on vague terms to confiscate players’ money; and (c) operators can’t force players to take part in publicity.
Operators must amend their promos to conform to most of the new code of conduct by February 28. Operators will have until July 31 to implement prompts for consumers to let them know when they’re playing with restricted funds.
The CMA believes the problems identified in its probe are industry-wide, and project Director George Lusty said the CMA “expect others to follow” the commitments made by the three cited operators. The CMA also released a list of do’s and don’ts for operators and produced a short video (viewable below) to educate consumers on their new rights.
The CMA insists its probe is far from over, and said it was now focusing on operators forcing players to “withdraw prize money in small installments over a long period of time, and terms which allow firms to confiscate funds if they haven’t been played with for a few months.”
UKGC exec director Sarah Gardner applauded the CMA’s action, saying it would result in “real progress in making gambling fairer and safer for customers.” Gardner also warned its online licensees to “take immediate action to review their practices in line with these findings, in the same deadlines outlined.”
UK-facing online operators are facing ever-shrinking boundaries on what’s considered acceptable behavior, including stiffer penalties for breaching advertising codes, limiting the use of kid-friendly slots characters, and paying greater attention to social responsibility obligations.